How you start the day makes a big difference towards setting you up for success, or setting you up for a day of feeling overloaded, distracted and fatigued.
We all have habits, both good and bad. Habits might include repeatedly pressing the snooze button, inhaling a donut on the way to work, or spending the first few hours of the day buried in junk email. Over time we repeat these actions and before we know it's ingrained behaviour.
A ritual, however, is done with deliberate intention and focus. When we choose a set of rituals to kick-start our day, we set up a process of purposeful actions designed to set the day up for success.
Research shows the early bird really does get the worm, as morning people are generally more proactive. Proactive behavior is when a person takes action to change a situation for the better. It's a trait that is related to career success, job performance, salary and self-efficacy.
Leading by example
Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the United States, had a three-hour morning routine that started at 5am. Upon waking he would wash, address 'powerful goodness' (some say this might be religious), and ask himself 'what good shall I do this day?' before having breakfast.
In his famous 2005 Stanford address, Steve Jobs revealed the biggest piece of advice that he used to start every day. "For the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?' And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something".
Glenn McGrath, Australia's best ever fast bowler, was another classic example. On tour with the Aussie cricket team I got to know McGrath's pre-match routine of 90, 60, 30. This meant that 90 minutes before the bus left the hotel for the oval, he would be in the pool warning his muscles and stretching his body. 60 minutes before departure he would have breakfast. 30 minutes before the bus left he would be downstairs ready to go.
McGrath believed this process helped him to focus on playing cricket at the highest level, and less time stressing over what he calls 'the little things'.
Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, has transformed her mornings from tornado to tranquil. Upon waking, she breathes deeply, practices gratitude and also sets an intention for the day. She then does a morning meditation followed by cardio on her spin bike, and stretching before hitting work.
Seven morning suggestions
Over the years I've developed a set of rituals that energise me keeping me healthy and productive. When I'm feeling tired and fatigued, following this process kick starts my body and brain into gear and before long I'm back feeling fresh again.
1. Wake up early and exercise
Most days I rise between 4.45am and 5.30am and I find the stillness before the day starts is the best time to think. I exercise most mornings as this wakes up my body and brain and sets me up for the day ahead.
Moving and getting outside in nature is a proven way to release endorphins and get blood and oxygen pumping to the brain. In an average week I aim to cycle three times (150km in total), do two weight training sessions, one outdoor bodyweight circuit, one yoga class, and in the warmer months I throw in one swim a week too.
2. Make your bed
I borrowed this one from Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week and the idea is to have the discipline of making your bed each day before you leave the house (try cleaning up the kitchen as well) so when you come home you have order and structure.
3. Connect with loved ones
I travel quite a lot and am a single dad, my children stay with me half the time. I find the ritual of checking in with my little ones every morning when they are not staying with me (and again later that day), and talking about our day ahead and telling them that I love them, reduces the anxiety I sometimes feel.
I must admit I don't find this one easy first thing (I find meditation easier at night) but I know lots of people who swear that including five to 10 mins of meditation each morning of helps them focus the mind. Great Apps to try include HeadSpace and Calm.
5. Eat breakfast
Starting the day with a nutritious breakfast that combines protein, performance carbs and good fats is the perfect way to fuel your body and brain for the day ahead.
Every morning, part of my warm up ritual is ingesting a quality coffee. There's nothing like the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, the sound of grinding beans, and the steamer kicking into gear to jolt my brain into 'let's get into work' mode.
7. Warm up
Just like an athlete warming up before a competition, you can't be expected to press a button and expect your brain to dive into focused work. And if you have been on email, social media and news feeds that morning, you need to put a hard stop in your diary and sit down for five to 10 minutes with a mindful approach to the day ahead. Ask questions like:
What is the best use of my time today?
What are the four or five tasks I need to complete?
Who do I need to connect with today?
These seven rituals have proven to work for me over the years. What works for you? Let me know in the Comments section.